Marketing Healthy: For the Kids

Marketing to kids has always been rather taboo.

But now that childhood obesity is more common than playground scuffles, a seemingly acceptable trend is emerging for political figures, culinary celebrities, and even restaurant chains to target kids with healthy eating and healthy lifestyle messaging.

While I believe this is a noble cause, I took a little look at the effectiveness and intentions behind a couple of marketing programs. Here are my thoughts…

1. First Lady Michelle Obama’s LET’S MOVE! Initiative

It was smart for the First Lady to select this issue for her primary cause. The White House Garden was a brilliant tactic as well, providing the chance for a lot of youth to visit the White House in a unique experience, along with endless photo-ops.

In addition, First Lady Obama’s efforts have been widely covered by media, showcasing her aggresive attention and passion for this cause, along with her ability to get kids active, involved, and even her ability to do yoga in a dress in the desert.

The program’s website, however, is a little less motivating. Loaded with federally-generated content, I wish there were greater calls to action and even opportunities for interaction. Why not post an exercise video every week? I’d do tricep curls with Mrs. O. any day!

While I love this program, it reminds me of “The Smoke Free Class of 2000” federal initiative that I was part of in 1988. We wore the yellow t-shirts; took the pledge to remain smoke-free; I even chewed out my grandmother for smoking her unfiltered Lucky Strikes. But it was a good thing that no one ever followed-up to see how many of us remained “smoke free.” They would have been sorely disappointed (no, I don’t smoke, but lots do).

My point is, marketing campaigns that intend to change people’s personal habits have to be ass-kicking and interactive. Their progress also must be tracked. There must be follow-up to see if the messaging was affective enough to change peoples’ habits. Michelle Obama wants to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. I believe it will take a lot more than planting a garden at the White House, putting up a website, and doing yoga in the desert to make a real impact. Someone get Jillian Michaels on the phone!

2. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution USA

I love this guy, but it’s a bit embarrassing for us Americans that this Brit felt so obliged to come all the way across the pond to stop us from feeding our youth to death.

I would say his mission looks largely self-promotional, until you delve into his website.  There are really useful tools such as online videos, and picture-illustrated, step-by-step recipes that teach parents and kids how to cook their own meals. These are the kind of basic, multi-media tools that I could really see empowering young kids to learn how to cook their own healthy meals at home. It’s also cool how it asks parents to take a pic of the meal they make with their kids and upload it to the Food Revolution Facebook page. Smart.

It’s hard to ignore all the support from celebrities like Eva Longoria and Heidi Klum, who were either born with blessed genetics or can afford full-time trainers and chefs to keep their bodies up to Hollywood’s accordance. But the website also features a story about a 9 year-old who started his own “Food Revolution,” which is the site’s primary call to action, along with a request to “sign the food revolution petition.”

The fact that Oliver is being both active in a range of communities and inciting people to take action to eat healthier and get healthier foods in schools, is impressively action-oriented. Some 600,000 people have signed his petition. I get e-newsletters from the campaign. Overall, the communications plan behind the campaign seems really well laid out.

3. Chipotle’s “No Junk” Campaign

That’s right, Chipotle, that devilishly delicious institution that serves up 1,700 calorie piles of Heaven-wrapped-in-a-tortilla is launching a marketing campaign that simply asks consumers to forward their junk e-mail to “”. For every 100,000 e-mails sent, Chipotle will donate $10,000 to The Lunch Box, a non-profit that provides schools with resources to make their lunches healthier.

It would have made more sense if Chipotle were rolling out some super healthy-yet-still sinfully tasty menu options simultaneously. Then again, maybe the giant burrito giant just wanted to do something good for the nation’s youth before they got into college and got hooked on their food.

Who knows.

But among these three campaigns, a few things are certain:

1. It’s not taboo to market to kids about food as long as it’s promoting healthy food and lifestyle choices.

2. Campaign tactics range from having national leaders and celebrities as spokespeople, to engaging people online to either do something for themselves or for “the cause.”

Watch these three campaigns, their calls to action, and whether they post results. They’re an interesting case study in the making.

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